When the sun goes down, Susan Draus is afraid to leave her apartment.
She has covered up her peephole with duct tape and put a cover along the bottom of her door to keep the sounds and smells of her apartment hallways, and some people, out.
“I’m scared to go out at night. We’re all scared to go out at night, you can’t go out,” Draus said on Tuesday.
“I won’t even go to the store, I’m scared until the sun comes back up.”
At night, people will try any door they can, hoping to get in. She said the hallways sometimes reek of marijuana at night.
Then, in the morning, the 51-year-old goes on a tour of the River Valley Apartments, her home, to see at what new damage happened overnight.
She sees used condoms and needles left lying on the floor, blood and feces smeared on the walls of this 71-unit affordable housing apartment building in downtown Red Deer. She has pictures of how people discard needles next to the sprinkler valve shutoff on one of the floors.
At night, homeless people find their way in through various means. Some sleep on the stairwells or hallways. She said they can jury-rig the doors so they don’t lock properly and they can get in.
The River Valley Apartments, at 5017 49th St., were completed in 2011 by Potter’s Hands Development, which is co-owned by Stan Schalk.
Schalk said they are working at improving the situation at the apartments and it has gotten better over the last six weeks as they have evicted some problem tenants.
“We are working at cleaning the place up,” said Schalk. “We have evicted several people and continue to do so. We always take risks when we rent to people because we’re working with some of the hardest to house, so there is going to be some people that make it work and some that it hasn’t worked for. We do work at evicting and keeping it clean.”
There are security cameras on each floor, but some have been ripped out of the walls and others have been spray-painted over.
Draus is on Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) and can only afford to live in affordable housing. She is unable to work. Rent in the building ranges from $400 to $600 a month, depending on the unit.
When Draus can’t sleep from the noise at night, she goes to Ted Spencer’s place. He finds the River Valley Apartments scary as well and always brings a shovel and bear spray with him when he goes to the building.
“It’s for self-defence,” said Spencer.
“They threaten you down there.”
Pointing to the lobby before the security door, he said it can get full of homeless people.
“You just try to come in here,” he said. “And they’ll follow you in. They’ve already threatened Susan. He said ‘I’m going to get you.’
“When we first came here, there was a table in the lobby where you had to sign your name. They said it was a drug-free building.”
When it opened, new tenants were required to sign a pledge to live a crime-free lifestyle.
Spencer said it could be a nice place to live.
“It just needs someone to take care of it.”
Another tenant, who was scared to give her name for fear of retaliation, echoed Draus and Spencer’s concerns.
“You should be safe in your own residence,” she said. “Not have to worry about the idiots in the hallway and the needles. What if you’re going down the steps and you stumble and there’s a needle? That needle pokes you and god knows what are you going to get.”
Her sons won’t come inside the building anymore.
At the bottom of one of the stairways are the once-fresh drywalled walls, covered with writing. One says “Quit doing needles here, or at least clean.”
Schalk said they had a meeting with the tenants about a week ago to listen to their concerns and try to find ways to keep the building safer and cleaner.
“One of the things we’re doing to address that is we have our keys on a fob system so only tenants can get into the building,” said Schalk. “We’re a couple of days away from having a fob on one of the side doors.”
Draus said they were told at the meeting that any increased security would mean an increase in the cost of rent.
“The homeless people that are in there, it’s not their fault. They should have a place to go,” said Spencer.
Draus’s family won’t come to visit her, because they’re scared.
“We don’t want to see the building shut down, we want to see it better maintained,” said Draus.
“I’ve never been late once on my rent, I’m always early.”
Schalk pointed out that it is hard to keep people out of the foyer.
“If people get into the building, because that can happen if someone opens the door and they grab the door to get in, they could be doing needles in the hallway or get into places and make a mess,” said Schalk. “We know that happens, and I don’t know exactly how to stop that on a permanent basis.”
He said he hopes more people in the building will raise their concerns with what happens so they know what the problems are and they can deal with it.
“If people talk to us, we try to deal with it,” said Schalk. “I can’t tell you we’re solving every problem, but we’re trying to deal with it and address it.”
He said the building has improved over the last six weeks because of the people who have been evicted.
“We’re down to maybe one other person left we think isn’t going to make it. We’re trying to be a little more selective about who goes in there,” said Schalk.
“We’re doing everything we can to make the building safer.”